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Licorice Root May Cut Cavities, Gum Disease

Chinese Licorice Root May Help Prevent, Treat Tooth Decay and Gum Disease
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

licorice root

Jan. 6, 2012 -- A substance known as the main ingredient of a classic candy may actually be good for your teeth: licorice.

According to a new study in the Journal of Natural Products, licorice root may help keep teeth healthy.

The authors report that compounds found in the dried root of the licorice plant may help prevent and treat tooth decay and gum disease.

But don’t rush to the candy aisle. According to information accompanying the study, what’s sold as licorice candy in the U.S. is no longer flavored with licorice root but with anise oil.

Chinese licorice root, which is found in northern mainland China, has been a staple in traditional Chinese medicine.

“Licorice is used in many Chinese herbal prescriptions as a guide drug to enhance the activity of other ingredients, reduce toxicity, and improve flavor,” the authors write.

However, it has not been tested extensively in the West. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), clinical trials of an injectable form of licorice root -- not available in the U.S. -- have shown beneficial effects against hepatitis C.

However, the researchers write, “there are not enough reliable data to determine whether licorice is effective for any condition.”

This study may help alter that conclusion. That would be good news because tooth decay is the most prevalent chronic disease in the U.S.

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, an estimated 92% of American adults and seniors have had some form of tooth decay, while 59% of teens and 42% of children aged 11 and under suffer from it.

The Active Ingredients

The two predominant compounds in licorice, licoricidin and licorisoflavan A, were found to be the most effective in inhibiting the growth of cavity-causing bacteria.

These and other compounds found in licorice root were also shown to prevent the growth of bacteria associated with periodontitis, an inflammatory disease that can destroy the bones, gums, and tissue that maintain teeth.

The primary author of the study, Stefan Gafner, PhD, is a researcher with toothpaste producer Tom’s of Maine, an independent division of Colgate-Palmolive. Licorice root is an ingredient in some of their products.

Warning Label

Although licorice root extract may prove beneficial, it does come with risks.

According to the NCCAM, it’s unknown whether it is safe to take licorice root supplements for more than four to six weeks. Forms of the supplement, which contain glycyrrhizin, can raise blood pressure, lower potassium levels, and cause salt and water retention when taken in large amounts.

People with high blood pressure or heart disease should be cautious when using licorice; pregnant women should avoid taking licorice as a supplement and should not eat large amounts of licorice in food.

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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